Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Beer

When you're grown up, you tend to miss out on many traditions that you followed, as a kid, during the holiday season. Writing letters to Santa and waiting in long lines in shopping malls to tell him what you want. And advent calendars that helped you count down the days until Christmas, being rewarded by tiny pieces of substandard chocolate.

Okay, maybe miss is a strong word.

For the second year, I've participated in a sharing event with my fellow Ottawa beer aficionados: Advent Beer. Our names are put in to a lot and randomly drawn. You're given a name and you have to collect 24 different cans or bottles of beer, and wrap them with a number. Before December, we met to exchange our pseudo-calendars.

Last year, being my first time participating in this event, I set out to find beer that I had tried and liked. Many of the bottles and cans that I collected were from past beer reviews or were purchased after visiting a few breweries, so I knew what I was giving.

I would never give away a beer that I wouldn't enjoy drinking, myself.

The person who chose my name, however, was a veteran of the event and had a penchant for throwing a couple of dogs into the mix.

On the fifth day, last year, I was treated (?) to a 1.5L can of Labatt's Blue. I took a sip, let my daughters try it (they gagged), and then promptly poured the rest down the drain.

Later, in the coming days, I found a bottle of Shock Top in the mix. Again, I took a sip, to be polite, and then pitched the rest. I didn't even subject my girls to that one.

All the while, I asked my friend, Dave, what I had done to offend him. He just rubbed his hands together and murmured, "Mwah-ha-ha!"

For this year, I drew a new name: Melanie. I didn't know anything about her and she knew nothing of me. That was okay: we'd get to meet down the road and she had nothing to fear from me. I never give away a beer that I wouldn't enjoy myself.

Dave, for his part, drew my name again. In the days leading up to our exchange, he taunted me, saying that he hoped I liked Blue, liked Olde English.

So far, Dave has given me some very nice beer. Brews from Stalwart, Kichesippi, Collective Arts, Nickel Brook, and Big Rig. All the time, I've been waiting for the boot to drop.

Yesterday, for Day 7, I was given a rare treat, and I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to review it (I bet you were wondering when I'd get to that, weren't you?).

It was delicious.
Delicious IPA (7.7% ABV)
Stone Brewing
Escondido CA
Appearance: a deep, rich, unfiltered apricot with a creamy, off-white head that stayed thick around the rim and left a dense lace in the centre of the glass.

Nose: tropical fruit—pineapple and mango, and faint hops.

Palate: alcohol lead the way, followed closely by bitter grapefruit, and a strong finish of bitter hops that stretch out. I burped fresh grapefruit juice.

Overall impression: while the grapefruit seems to dominate any other citrus flavour, the bitterness seems to be Stone's signature. It's a serious IPA, with a massive punch, backed up by the 7.7 percent alcohol content.

The first mouthful was a sucker punch of booze and bitterness. But secondary sips seemed to balance everything out, and as I got to the end of the glass, I was loving the stuff. And that wasn't just the booze talking.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

This year's advent calendar is proving that Dave likes me and wants me to drink good beer. That said, maybe he gave me such a great Stone ale because he's setting me up for the next one. The boots haven't dropped yet, and there are still 17 days left.

If you're interested in following my beer exploits, check out my Untappd profile or follow me on Twitter, using the hashtag #AdventBeers.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flight Delay

I think it's time we stopped using sex to sell products.

I'm hard-wired to look at women, but I find, these days, that I catch myself and become ashamed when I see a woman being used to sell a product. Women are not accessories, and it's high time that we, as a society, recognize that very important fact.

I saw the illustration of the buxom, curvy, '50s-era woman, in the short-shorts, dressed more like she was ready for the open seas than for the sky, and I was disappointed by the brewery's choice for marketing. I didn't pick up the can.

I didn't pick it up the second or third time that I saw it in the LCBO. But finally, I was curious about the contents inside, whether this IPA would make me forget the packaging.

I read the side of the can and learned that it was a west-coast IPA, and because I had such good luck with another of these tropical-fruit brews, I took it home.
Flight Delay IPA (6.5% ABV)
Barnstormer Brewing Co.
Barrie ON
Appearance: clear, copper-amber colour with a creamy, taupe head that pours thick and slowly settles to a firm cap.

Nose: caramel, malt, light, tropical fruit, and mild hops holding them all together.

Palate: those hops hit you right away and are strong, so much so that they overshadow flavours of citrus—under-ripe orange and bitter grapefruit.

Overall impression: if I were to design the label, instead of the saluting woman, I would have designed a flexed, muscle-bulging arm, clenching a wrench in a powerful hand. I find the strength of the hops and bitterness dominate this ale. There is no finesse, no other distinctive, tropical flavour that I've experienced in other west-coast IPAs.

The artwork on the can kept me from buying the ale for weeks. The contents will keep me from buying it again. And, sadly, it's the woman on the can that seems to be Barnstormer's logo, so I don't know how long it will be before I pick up another of their brews.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Québec Beer

I know: it's been a while since I've posted a beer review. And I've been meaning to, but as always happens in life, life gets in the way. If you're also a reader of The Brown Knowser, you know that I've been occupied with house renovations, which often leaves me tired. Not too tired to have a beer, mind you: just too tired to write about it.

I have been trying lots of new beers, and in order to catch up, I'm going to review two of them in this post.

Lately, I've pulled away from buying my lunch at the cafeteria at work, partly because it's not inexpensive and also because the short-order cook has difficulties, at times, putting together a club sandwich. Also, she talks to me with a baby voice that I find off-putting in a person that is about my age.

Instead, I take about the same amount of time at lunch to drive to a nearby IGA, and I prefer to do this because I get to choose exactly what I want to eat without having it botched (or, if it is, that's totally on me) and it costs a lot less for a lot more.

But there's an even better reason to go to this independent grocer: beer.

Working in Québec, every single grocery store has an extensive selection of beer; especially, craft beer that is not readily available in Ontario. And while some Ontario grocery stores are now selling beer and wine, these stores are either out of my way or are situated close to an LCBO, my preferred venue for finding great craft brews.

In the IGA near work, I find that in addition to a great craft beer selection, there are lots of variety packs that allow me to try several styles of beer that a brewer offers without committing to a six pack of a single type of beer.

And, as an added bonus, some of these beers go on sale, so I can usually find something new at a buck or so off the regular price.

I've tried quite a few over the past few months, from my favourites, Dieu du Ciel and McAuslan, to Archibald and les Brasseurs RJ.

One of the best beers that I've tried from my grocery-store visits is a beer from a brewery that I was introduced to a couple of years ago, as I was waiting for a flight at the Montréal airport. This brewery has a pub in the Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, but also has a great selection of their beer in my IGA.

Let's look at their IPA.
La Ciboire IPA (6% ABV)
Archibald microbrasserie
Québec, QC
Appearance: slightly unfiltered, bright apricot with a dense, foamy off-white head.

Nose: orange, grapefruit, and tropical notes like mango and pineapple.

Palate: candied grapefruit and tangerine. There are pronounced hops but they are not overly bitter. Orange rind and bitterness make their appearance in the long, satisfying finish.

Overall impression: this is a very nice, fruity IPA that is well-balanced between those fruit flavours and the finishing bitterness. This is an IPA lover's IPA.

Absolutely delicious.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5

I said, earlier, that McAuslan is one of my favourite Québec microbreweries. They have an outstanding IPA and make the best pumpkin and maple ales out there. There isn't a brew that they've produced that I haven't liked.

Until now. And I can't exactly say that I don't like this selection; rather, I was disappointed at how it didn't blow me away, particularly after I had just revelled in the oak-aged pale ale that I had picked up at the IGA only a week before.

Let's take a look:
St-Ambroise Session IPA (4.5% ABV)
Brasserie McAuslan
Montréal, QC
Appearance: unfiltered, pale grapefruit juice or pineapple juice in appearance, with a creamy white head that settles to a thin cap.

Nose: lots of fresh hops, with lemon citrus notes.

Palate: an astringent citrus—unripened grapefruit, with big hops and grass. The hops hit the roof of the mouth like you are sucking on a dry tea bag and the finish lingers, giving this ale an extremely dry feel.

Overall impression: this is a tough one to suss out. I like the hops but not the astringent fruit. I like the dryness but not how it feels on the roof of my mouth.

For a session IPA, it's good but there are better ones out there, and that's what disappoints me. Normally, I see a McAuslan beer and I know that I'm getting something good. With this selection, I'd drink it again but I don't think I'll buy more.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

I'll review more brews from la belle provence as the months go on. Cheers!

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I always find a bit of redundancy in labeling an English IPA. England is the home of the first IPAs, when brewers shipped strong ales that could handle the long journey, by ship, to the colonies in India. I can understand an American IPA or a Canadian IPA, with their own twist on this hoppy style of beer, but by definition, an IPA is English in nature, unless otherwise indicated.

Nevertheless, when I drink an IPA, all that I care about is that it carries the essential characteristics of an India Pale Ale.

Nita Beer Company, in the commercial and industrial area of Colonnade Road, in Nepean, has been around for about two years and has already made a name for itself, occupying taps in many pubs around Ottawa. I first tried their beer, last summer, at The Arrow & Loon, where I enjoyed El Hefe and OPA, and at CRAFT Beer Market, where both my wife and I fell in love with Mr. Brown Has Gone Coconuts.

Last Friday, Nita launched a new English IPA, and within hours I was paying the brewery a visit to pick some up.
Chauncey English IPA (6.8% ABV)
Nita Beer Company
Ottawa ON
Appearance: unfiltered, burnt apricot, with a creamy, off-white head that settles to a medium lace.

Nose: a slight hint of freshly shucked corn and orange rind. Not the creamy corn aroma that I associate with a flaw, but more green from the husk.

Palate: there's a good balance of malt and hops, with a bitter, acidic follow up to the finish. Orange rind carries through on subsequent sips and builds, as does the alcohol at the back of the tongue. It's a bit boozy, but thankfully there are good flavours to back it up.

Overall impression: Chauncey is a good beer to enjoy when you're not planning on going anywhere. The 6.8 percent alcohol content compels you to drink responsibly. It's a hefty, bull-dog IPA.

Maybe, that's where the English comes in.

Grab some from the brewery or check around Ottawa to see where you can get it on tap.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Absent Landlord

As the story goes (the one that's printed on the side of the can), the tiny town of Drummond, less than 30 kilometres east of Goderich and Lake Huron, in Southern Ontario, was founded in 1851. Four years later, a wealthy landowner in Berkshire, Southern England, bought the entire town, sight unseen, and changed the name to his own.

Henry Blyth never set foot in the town.

From this incredible story comes a beer to honour the town's namesake, who was absent so long ago. Why the brewers decided to choose a West-German-style ale is beyond me, but this is not your average Kölsch.
Absent Landlord Coutry Kölsch (5.3% ABV)
Cowbell Brewing Company
Blyth, ON
Appearance: a bright, cloudy orange-apricot with a creamy, off-white head that forms a thin but solid cap.

Nose: pear, with floral notes and ripe banana.

Palate: the nose carries through to the palate, with candied pear, rich banana, and a touch of creamy barley, which gives the strange impression of drinking a melted, unsweetened Creamsicle. It's rich, decadent, and flavourful.

Overall impression: this is the cloudiest Kölsch I've ever had and possibly, the most flavourful. It's certainly the best Kölsch I've ever had.

The fresh-fruit flavours give it the impression of being sweet, but this ale cleanses the palate and refreshes, especially on a hot day. Since my first can of Absent Landlord, I have picked up nearly 20 more and I expect that by the end of this week, I'll clear out the remaining stock on the shelves of this Ottawa LCBO, because it's only one of three stores in my city that stocks Absent Landlord, according to the LCBO Web site.

So grab it before it goes absent.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4


Thursday, August 11, 2016



Yup, sometimes, there are beer labels that you can't pass up. Actually, you can, but why would you?

The other weekend, when the missus and I were out in the west end, looking for hardwood flooring, we found ourselves passing by a local brewery that I haven't visited in a couple of years. I decided, once the flooring shop was visited, to pay another visit to this brewer.

It's a place that's generally out of the way, so I took advantage of my situation (there's always a reason to stop for beer).

I was pleased to see that Covered Bridge Brewing had moved into using cans, as well as growlers, so I picked up a couple of cans from the four brews that were available in aluminum. I decided that I wouldn't review all of them but if another of the four moves me while I drink it, I'll do more reviews.

But first, I had to focus on this quirky-named ale.

The hipster dude makes me roll my eyes (when is that fad going to go away?) and the name of the beer would make me blush to say in public, but it's the style of the beer that I'm all about.
Lumbersexual Session IPA (3.5% ABV)
Covered Bridge Brewing Company
Stittsville, ON
Appearance: a cloudy deep-apricot, with an off-white to beige head that was thick and foamy, and settled to a solid cap, then dense lace.

Nose: orange peel and ruby-red grapefruit. It was powerfully fragrant, with solid hops.

Palate: at first, there was a watery lightness that disappointed me, but at the end the hops came through. On subsequent sips, the wateriness dissipated as the hops coated my tongue, though I still came back with the impression of a watered-down IPA. Only the low alcohol reassured me that it was also a session ale.

Overall impression: the nose was huge and powerful, like a lumberjack, but the palate was gentle, like a lover. I now get the name of this ale. But did I like it?

Yes, I did, once I got past the first mouthful and really started drinking it. It's refreshing and light—perfect for these hot, hazy summer days. And with the low ABV, it's something you can throw back without a care.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

Currently, this beer is only available at the brewery, but because it's packaged in cans, I'm hopeful that it'll soon make its way to LCBO shelves.


Friday, August 5, 2016


I love discovering new Ontario breweries. Take last night, for example: it was International IPA Day, and I found myself in Carleton Place, a small but beautiful town a half-hour or so west of Ottawa. After a photo shoot in a hot, abandoned factory, I needed to find a cool pub and have a cooler brew to celebrate this special day.

I found such a place at St. James Gate. And, not only did they have an IPA to help me with the celebration, but this IPA was from the very town I was in.

I'll have to review that ale, but not today.

No, today, I take a look at another discovery from a Kitchener brewer, whose cans of American Pale Ale found their way to my local LCBO shelves.

And this APA was not what I expected.
Harbinger American Pale Ale (5.5% ABV)
Descendants Beer & Beverage Company
Kitchener, ON
Appearance: a deep amber to copper, more in line with an amber ale; a creamy, beige head left a solid cap.

Nose: slight malts, but otherwise, closed. I expected some fresh hops, but found none reaching my nostrils.

Palate: hop-forward with solid malt balancing from the first mouthful, but as the ale went down past the tongue, the hops prevailed as the dominant flavour. There's also a burnt toffee-ness that coats the tongue. It drinks somewhere between an amber lager and a red ale.

Overall impression: this is not what I expected when I opened the can. A few hours before I tucked into this APA, I had a Kichessippi 1855 with lunch. The two were very much in the same class, where I would have initially thought that they would be very different.

I did enjoy this ale for the body and flavours that it offered. Expecting a pale ale, though, I would have been disappointed if that was all I really wanted. This ale is so much more that it seems to depart from its category.

If you're looking for a full-bodied amber or a lighter red, this will go just nicely. If you want an APA, beware.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Captain's Log

No, this isn't another STAR TREK-themed beer.

This lager is named in homage to an old lighthouse that signaled a port along the north shore of Lake Ontario, in the town of Oakville. And like that 1836 beacon, this can caught my eyes and drew me in.
Captain's Log Lager (5% ABV)
Cameron's Brewing
Oakville, ON
Appearance: clear, bright gold with a fizzy white head the disappeared like a ship in a fog. (Quickly.)

Nose: like a ship that secures its cargo, this lager had a tightly closed nose that did not offer up its secrets. Over time, I could only get faint hints of grass and barley, but not much else.

Palate: clean malt and a light body that made this lager sail smoothly down my throat. It's very easy to drink in any situation—those with a taste for easy-drinking beer will enjoy this lager. But for me, I would have liked to have had more flavour—full steam ahead, as it were.

Overall impression: this is such a simple lager that should appeal to all palates. It's unassertive, clean, and refreshing. A captain's log would be straightforward, without any rough seas.

Captain's Log is smooth sailing all the way.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5


Friday, July 22, 2016

The Pale Ale Project

There's a brewery in Ottawa that I've always liked but don't get the opportunity to drink as often as I'd like.

It's not the brewery's fault: it's mine.

When Beyond the Pale first opened its doors, a couple of years ago, the only place that you could buy the beer was in its Parkdale Market-area site or in a few pubs in the Hintonburg area. Or, you could find them at a booth in a beer festival.

Back then, if you wanted to take some of their beer home, you had to go directly to the brewery and pick up a growler. And because the brewery was popular, you had to get to the brewery as soon as it opened its doors, before they sold out. Their latest batch sold out quickly, which meant that you could miss out on special brews.

Which is usually what happened to me.

But now that the brewery has started to can their product and move into the LCBO, I can always find some Pink Fuzz, and now, I can try their latest offering.

I was especially prompted to pick up their new pale ale because a friend of mine created the artwork on the can.

What was inside the can was equally impressive.
Pale Ale Project (4.9% ABV)
Beyond the Pale Brewing Company
Ottawa, ON
Appearance: a luminescent, deep gold with ample effervescence (I saw what I thought was a bubbly twister in the glass) and a thick, foamy-white head.

Nose: ripe citrus—tangerine and pink grapefruit—and pineapple, with floral overtones.

Palate: lemon, grapefruit, with light hops on a light body, though the flavours carry to a solid finish.

Overall impression: this is one of the most-flavourful pale ales I have tried. It has the light body of a session ale but the weighty flavour of an IPA. I was sad that I had only bought myself two cans—I was seriously craving more and this might just become my regular brew of the summer.

Beyond the Pale has come out with a successful project. Grab some while you can. I suspect this ale is for a limited time.

And kudos to artist extraordinaire and Ottawa-area historian, Andrew King, on a great label. I like the intricate work: a friend of mine saw it and felt it had a Rube Goldberg machine and I agreed. I like how the picket fence worked into the art, paying homage to the company logo.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4


Friday, July 15, 2016

That Young Whiprsnapr

In today's explosion of craft breweries, it's increasingly important to create a brew that stands out above the rest. As I have written before, in the fight for shelf space at The Beer Store or the LCBO, a beer must be packaged in a way that draws a shopper's eye to it and that the style of beer is clearly laid out, so that the consumer knows what she or he is buying.

Above all else, in order to bring that beer lover back and to establish itself firmly in the market, that brew must be a product with solid, consistent quality.

I first visited Whiprsnapr Brewing Company during its grand opening, in the fall of 2014. It's humble production facility and tasting shop, in the industrial park in Bells Corners, was packed with eager aficionados, anxious to try Ottawa's newest brewery. I was impressed with their lineup of ales and lagers, of their sitting areas, of their merchandise—I picked up a t-shirt of their flagship brew, Root of Evil, with the word evil placed inside the mathematical square-root sign, even though, for that grand opening, that flagship product wasn't available. A problem during production, I was told, one that would be fixed in the next batch, which would be available in the next couple of weeks. I did sample everything else that was on tap and even took a couple of mini growlers home, fully intending to review them all.

I never reviewed them. When I got home and had poured the beer into my own glasses, I noticed that the beer didn't quite taste like I remembered them in the brewery. I looked at my quickly scribbled tasting notes to see if I missed something, but I hadn't. My notes from the taps at the grand opening did not match my notes from the growlers.

There wasn't anything wrong with the beer: it just didn't seem consistent.

I chose to put off a review for the time being. I would wait until my taste buds had begun to forget what they had sensed (I never completely forget the taste of a beer) and try again. Besides, I really wanted to review the beer whose name emblazoned the t-shirt I had.

And then I went on a hiatus of more than four months, where I wasn't reviewing any beer. I was still drinking it, still writing notes, but I wasn't sharing my impressions. It was just me, enjoying my pints.

Whiprsnapr, by then, was just another of the many breweries I had known, and had moved on. I still always meant to try Root of Evil, but I was also coming to a point where I was reluctant to buy growlers because of my inability to return them. To this day, I'm sitting on a small fortune of empty jugs from almost every Ottawa brewery, including the growlers I bought at Whiprsnapr's grand opening.

It wasn't until the brewery was putting their product into cans, where they sold at the LCBO. A couple of months ago, I saw black cans with evil inside the square-root sign, and I knew it was the time to give this lager a try. I picked up a couple of cans and brought them home.

When I opened the first can, I wore my Whiprsnapr t-shirt. I planned to take a photo of myself, in that shirt, sipping a glass of the yellow-gold beverage.

After my first sip, I knew something was wrong: I detected distinct tones of buttered popcorn, which is often a sign of a flaw in the beer. Perhaps it was a bad can—it happens from time to time and is the main reason that I always buy at least two of every beer I bring home. I poured out the can and reached for the second one.

The buttered popcorn was still there, but I also noticed that the second can didn't taste like the first one, either. Many similarities, but not the same and neither of them good. That's how they made it, I told myself as I dumped the second can.

I don't like to write bad reviews, especially of local brewers. I have met the founder and brewer, Ian McMartin, a couple of times, had actually cycled with him before he opened his brewery. He was a good guy, loved the outdoors, and was passionate about beer.

After tossing out the two cans, I sent a tweet, warning that I had a review for Whiprsnapr, and that it would be "evil." Ian responded right away, asking me what was wrong. I told him what I had detected in my beer and he admitted that he had let out a batch that had problems, but they were brewing a new batch, and were even altering the recipe a bit. He'd have this batch in a couple of weeks.

I told him that I would hold off on my review until the new batch was ready, when I would come to the brewery and pick up the cans from him.

In the brewery, Ian poured me a sample from the tap. It was cold, clean, and refreshing, and I found nothing out of sorts with a lager. Ian gave me my replacement cans, and I was on my way, ready to give this brew its due respect.

As soon as I was home, I pulled out my best glass, set up my camera, and shot the beer on my front porch. It looked good. It smelled good.

I didn't like the taste.

Maybe it was me. Maybe I had built up the beer in my head and had unrealistic expectations.

I poured the rest of the glass down the drain and placed the second can in the fridge. I would take a break, drop any preconceived notions, and treat the next can like I've never had this beer before.

A couple of weeks later, in the LCBO, I saw another can of beer by Whiprsnapr. I had had this beer—an IPA—at the grand opening and from one of the growlers that I had brought home. I remembered liking it, so I thought that I would review this ale with the second can of lager that sat in my fridge. I would take a look at these two offerings in a single review, see which I preferred.

I opened the lager first. Here's my official review:
Root of Evil Prohibition Lager (4.5% ABV)
Whiprsnapr Brewing Company
Ottawa, ON
Appearance: deep gold with a white, foamy head that quickly settles to a dense lace. The clear liquid dances with the tiny pearls that rise to the surface.

Nose: buttered popcorn and dry grass. For me, it's okay if a beer smells like popcorn, as long as it doesn't taste like it.

Palate: good, toasted malt with a little bit of hops on the finish, mixed with flavours of creamed corn.

Overall impression: Root of Evil is brewed with corn as a main ingredient, so it's no surprise that I pick it up on the nose and in the mouth. But I don't think I'm a fan of that grain in my beer. For me, it seems a little pedestrian. That said, the lager was well-balanced, with the malts leading the charge and the hops right behind it.

It's not a bad lager; indeed, it's a far step up from any mass-produced lager and would most likely be a welcome change from those who drink Labatt's. But for me, in a time when so many microbreweries are fighting to be the leader, I can't get around the inconsistencies I've tasted with this beer.

For me, inconsistency is the root of evil.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2

How did their IPA fare? Let's see...
Inukshuk Canadian IPA (5.5% ABV)
Appearance: burnt orange with red highlights. A foamy, beige head that settles to a thin cap. I found the colour to be gorgeous.

Nose: orange peel and a touch of pine. There are the classic notes of an IPA but with a Canadian flair.

Palate: orange rind and sharp hops, plus a bit of malt on the tongue. There was also a tinge of grassiness that didn't quite seem in step with a traditional IPA.

Overall impression: this is a pretty good IPA that is easy enough to drink, even while sitting outside on a hot, muggy, mid-30°C afternoon. While I didn't find all the flavours fit into my idea of an India Pale Ale, the can clearly reads Canadian IPA, and I think Ian came through on a local take on one of my favourite styles.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3

While I still like my t-shirt, I think I'll pass on any more of this lager. As much as I like the brewer, I can't trust what I'll get in the can. But I would drink Inukshuk again. It's an ale that speaks to my outdoor Canadian self.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Some Über Beer for Solstice d'été

In summer, it's not uncommon for me to find lighter, thirst-quenching beer. After all, I'm outside more—mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, cycling, or just hanging out on my front porch, trying to beat the heat.

I'm less likely to drink a stout than a session ale, or saison, or radler. And now, I may just reach for another thirst-satisfying brew: a raspberry ale.

But which raspberry ale would I reach for first? Over the past couple of weeks, I've had a chance to try two: one, which was given to me by my 13-year-old daughter, who picked out the bottle on her own, to give to me for Father's Day; the other, a raspberry beer that I picked out in a Gatineau shop, to enjoy as I celebrated St-Jean Baptiste Day (a Québec holiday, but for me, a day to relax and sip great ale).

It's an Ontario ale over a Québec beer.

In this post, I examined each of these tart treats in great detail, and we shall see which one beats out the other.

I started with the ale that my daughter bought me.
Raspberry Über Berliner Style Weisse (3.8% ABV)
Nickel Brook Brewing Company
Burlington, ON
Appearance: a murky, pinkish-red, like a ruby-red grapefruit cocktail, or red Kool-Aid, or a red sangria with a pink fruit juice and a splash or red wine. The head is a bright pink that fizzes and bubbles, and sat on top like a fresh-poured soda and vanished just as quickly. After the bubbles let go of the side of the glass, you're left with a faint effervescence. Some sediment was left at the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: candied raspberries.

Palate: sweet and tart raspberries come on strong. And even though fresh Ontario raspberries are used in the brewing process, I felt that I could taste something artificial, as though something more was added to enhance the fruit flavour. This flavour did not detract from the overall enjoyment of this German-styled ale—it is solidly enjoyable: tasty, refreshing, and clean, with no cloying finish.

Overall impression: my darling daughter chose this ale for me, and she chose well. When I first tried it, I knew that this would be a great beverage to quench my thirst on a hot day. This is a perfect alternative to a grapefruit or lemon radler, and I recommend this for a great summer beer.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

The second raspberry beer comes from one of my favourite Québec brewers. I knew I was going to like it because I haven't had a beer from this company that I didn't like. But would I love it? And, would I love it more than the Nickel Brook raspberry beer?

Let's find out.
Solstice d'été Raspberry Strong Beer (5.9% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Appearance: unfiltered, bright-red, with a brilliant, pink head that also settles to nothing, like soda. Lots of large bubbles cling to the sides of the glass (do I need to clean my glasses better?), and when they're gone, all that's left is a fine effervescence. Small pieces of actual raspberry fruit settle at the bottom of the glass.

Nose: this brew was fairly closed, at first, but slowly revealed its fresh raspberries.

Palate: sour, tart raspberries, which carry all the way to the finish. No alcohol is detected, which could make this a dangerous brew if you're used to lighter fruit ales and radlers. This drinks like a fizzy raspberry soda, without any sweetness. The sourness makes the fruit pop in your mouth, and if you bite into a piece of the fruit, the raspberry flavour is amplified. I looked forward to finding a piece in my mouth as I sipped my drink.

Overall impression: I'm not typically a fan of sour ales, but with the tart raspberries, I can't imagine this ale any other way. I loved those pieces of raspberries. This ale, as its name states, is a summer-solstice-inspired treat, and is made especially for this season.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5

So, which raspberry beer did I prefer? As you can see, the Dieu du Ciel choice squeaked ahead in the ratings, but only because of that sour punch and the real-fruit flavour burst when I chewed on the raspberry bits. But I would happily grab for both in the liquor store. I didn't see Über in Broue Ha Ha*, where I bought the Dieu du Ciel; likewise, I didn't see Solstice d'été in the LCBO. So it all comes down to where I pick up my beer—on which side of the border I shop.

Either way, you can't lose.


* Broue Ha Ha is open on Canada Day; the LCBO isn't.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Oak-Aged Cream Ale

Happy Anniversary, Muskoka Brewery!

It's hard to imagine any craft brewery in Ontario that is 20 years old and is still around or hasn't been swallowed up by one of the big, nasty, multinational corporations. Is there any Ontario craft brewer that's older than you, which has remained small like you?

Never change, my friends!

For this Bracebridge, Ontario, craft brewer's 20th anniversary, the folks have brewed a limited-edition, oak-aged version of their flagship cream ale. And for this year's Father's Day, without any prompting, my 13-year-old daughter asked her mother to take her to the LCBO to pick out some beer for me, and this is one of the three bottles that she chose.

She knows me so well and has great taste in beer.

Let's take a look at this one:
20th Anniversary Oak-Aged Cream Ale (5% ABV)
Muskoka Brewery
Bracebridge, ON
Appearance: I love the colour of this ale—deep amber with red highlights and a creamy-beige head that keeps a thick, silky cap.

Nose: malty oak and toasted caramel.

Palate: oaked malt with a slightly astringent, yet toasty finish. There's a slight bitterness on the sides and back of the tongue and a good, solid body.

Overall impression: the oak adds a nice complexity to what is otherwise a common cream ale. That is to say, I've always liked their cream ale but I tend to not reach for it when I'm shopping for this style of beer. The oak-aged version, on the other hand, reminds be of another ale—one that I do reach for every once and a while: the classic, Innis & Gunn Original.

Muskoka's anniversary cream ale is rich, creamy, and is easily drinkable. I would definitely reach for it when I'm in the LCBO. And because it's a limited edition, I suggest you reach for it soon.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Congratulations to Muskoka Brewery for 20 successful years. I'm raising my glass and wishing you at least another 20 more.